Moose’s Top Finance Mistakes
I wasn’t always good at managing my money. Before embracing the principles of financial independence, I was a financial mess. I was extraordinarily immature and reckless with money, and I didn’t wise up until I found out my wife was pregnant. Below, I’m going outline the top finance mistakes I made. Learn from my mistakes! This is a lengthy post so hop around to whatever looks interesting to you.
Overview of My Top Finance Mistakes
- Not having an emergency fund
- Not using automation
- Compulsive spending
- Traveling with debt
- Investing with debt
- Due Dilig-what?
- Investing in individual stocks
- Getting swept up in the market’s “animal spirits”
As you can already tell from this list above, I was a fucking idiot when it came to money. While it pains me to relive that era, I’m putting these personal finance mistakes front and center to ensure I don’t ever repeat them.
If you’re well-established with your great money habits, excellent. Let this be a reminder never to slip. However, this is aimed at my younger readers, especially those in their early twenties. This is the age when compulsion, lack of foresight, and keeping up with the Joneses (“flexin'” or “stuntin'” for you younger Millennials) are most likely to wreck your finances.
I’ve spoken about my background previously, so I won’t bore you with repetition here. My family was poor when we first immigrated to the United States. I was seven years old. My father supported a family of five with a paltry $18k annual salary.
We didn’t talk much about money in my house when I was younger. Mostly, because we didn’t have it. I did get some good advice from my parents, though.
Immigrant Parent Money Advice
- Never owe anyone else money
- If it’s not on sale or doesn’t have a coupon, don’t buy it
- Never carry a credit card balance (see the first point)
This brief advice is solid, but being the bullheaded Moose that I am, I naturally didn’t pay it any heed. Here are the top finance mistakes I made.
Not having an emergency fund
This is quite self-explanatory. Emergency fund? Nah. Couldn’t be bothered with creating one. As a consequence of this, any time I had an unforeseen financial emergency (frequent), I’d either have to put it on a credit card or sell a valuable possession of mine. Ouch.
Before you pay down any debt or invest in stocks or mutual funds, make sure you have an emergency fund! Even $1,000 or $500 is a good start. Just make sure you’ve got this squared away, or you’ll end up in the same cycle of debt I got myself into.
Related: Emergency Funds Aren’t Static
Not using automation
This is pop psychology, but I happen to find that it’s true: we lose willpower throughout the day as the number of decisions we have to make increases. We can’t sit around obsessing over money 24/7. We’ve got lives. We all have our daily routines and adding decisions like “how much money should I save this month” or “what should I invest in?” on top of everything else is just asking for neglect.
Instead of relying on an iron sense of discipline, make your life easier. Some battles are worth fighting, but this is a stupid one. To borrow a phrase from the Army, this is not the hill you want to die on.
Automate your savings and automate your investments. It’s simple. If your money gets scurried off into a savings account before it even hits your checking account, you’re less tempted to spend it, intentionally or not. If the money in your savings account then gets automatically invested in an index fund every month, you don’t have to wonder what to do with it. This step takes a max of 20 minutes and has a massive impact on your finances. If you’re not already automating, do it!
I love the engineering that goes behind supercars. It’s like catnip for me. I’m also a massive fan of Formula One and happen to be related to a Formula One Grand Prix winner. Cars, you could say, are in the blood.
I bought my first car when I was 22. I spent $25,000 on a little sports car and was proud of my purchase. Knowing that being mangled or killed overseas wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for me, I also wanted to live a little.
Related: How I Almost Bought a $250,000 Car
While I had a lot of fun with that car, I cringe when I think about how much money I’d have now if I had invested those inflated car payments and insurance premiums instead. The vehicle went through THREE engines! The first replacement was paid for by the manufacturer, so no biggie. The second engine caught on fire on my way to work one day because the mechanics, during the previous engine replacement, had cracked my radiator. Fun times.
I now drive a minivan with over 100,000 miles on the odometer. I bought it with $1,500 buckeroos. What has gone wrong with it? Not a thing.
I’ve touched on this before. Since I was used to not having money, I spent money to return to maintain homeostasis. Unconsciously, I assumed I’d be back to not having money again soon so I spent it before someone else could take it. It’s a fucked up mentality and creates a vicious feedback loop, but it’s unfortunately all-too-common.
I spent money to feel important. To fit in. I also spent money to try to impress people. I wasn’t important, I did not ever fit in, and nobody was impressed by my dumb purchases.
Traveling with debt
A common financial mistake made by college students and even business school students (more common than you’d think) is traveling while you have debt. Unless somebody close to you died or you’re traveling for work, you have no business traveling for fun if you’ve got any high-interest debt. Traveling is a privilege, Millennials, not a right.
I’m a Millennial too, calm down.
Our generation likes to travel more than previous ones and trips are often the reason for our debt, alongside with student loans. The worst thing you can do is finance your travels with a credit card! If you can’t pay for it with cash, don’t go. If you have any debt over the IHR, don’t go! Traveling with debt is a great way to travel without moving.
Investing with debt
Let’s say you have a credit card with an 18% interest rate. For it to make sense for you to invest, you’d have to be confident that you could return AT LEAST an 18% interest rate long-term. That’s without even thinking about taxes! Unless you’re Warren Buffett, you’re not consistently cranking out an 18% return year on year. Just stop.
Related: Should You Pay Off All Your Debt?
Due diligence. It’s a fancy term used on Wall Street that means “do your homework.” On top of trying to invest while carrying high-interest credit card debt, I also used to invest on nothing more than a hunch. I was fortunate in that I was rarely pantsed. I made a decent amount of money from my investments. However, this was pure luck and investing in strong bull markets. Don’t ever confuse your bull market returns with genius.
Now that I’ve worked on Wall Street, I know the amount of work that it takes to be consistently right about investments. It takes hundreds of hours to understand ONE company. Even the world’s top hedge fund managers can personally only keep up with ten stocks, in depth, at a time. And they’re investing for a living!
Don’t invest unless you have the time and the know-how. You don’t just invest money; you invest time and expertise. If money is the only thing you’re bringing to the table, you’re the sucker and won’t likely have that money for long.
Due diligence is for any investment. Real estate, stocks, cryptos…whatever the hell you invest in, make sure you’re not clueless and do your due diligence.
Investing in individual stocks
Investing in one company is a far riskier proposition than investing in an index fund. Even index fund/ETF investing isn’t without risk. I’ve specifically covered this topic in a previous post, so I’ll say only this: unless you have oodles of time to read through 10-Qs and 10-Ks, know how to tie together a three-statement financial model and value companies with a variety of methodologies, you’re probably better off just investing in index funds.
You have to have a passion for all of the above work as well. Magically, once my daughter was born, I stopped giving a shit about expending this kind of effort outside of work. I’d rather hang out with my family.
Getting swept up in the market’s “animal spirits”
I had bought two houses by the time I was 24. Naturally, this was with no money down. I’m going to write another post exclusively about this experience, but I thought I could get rich quick by flipping houses. Around 2005-2007, flipping houses was all the rage, and it seemed like everybody was doing it. The movie “The Big Short” accurately depicts the atmosphere of the time.
I was lucky and broke even. The last house sold in the spring of 2008 and I got out at the last minute.
If people who have no expertise on a topic are making money hand over fist, STOP! This state of affairs will not last long (cough, cough, almost everyone who bought bitcoin). Sure, you may get lucky, but for every person that strikes it rich, there’s a line of people who got their faces ripped off. Don’t fall for the siren song of easy riches. Stick with the basics. If you buy cryptos and fully understand the math behind them and the potential of distributed ledger technology, go for it. At least you know what you’re getting into. However, if you want to buy something purely because it quadrupled overnight, don’t.
Related: Easy Money is Not Money
How often did I budget or look at my finances? Never. I lived life in a constant state of risk. I largely did what I wanted, when I wanted. I ran away from comfronting the fact that I was flat broke.
Before you begin making any changes to your finances, you have to be aware of the state of your balance sheet. How much debt do you have, how many assets are yours, what’s your net worth? What are your typical spending patterns every month, and where can you cut spending?
Personal Capital it my favorite tool to help with all of this. It’s easy and intuitive to use and has better portfolio tracking features than other popular money sites. If you use my personal link to sign up, we both get $20! You can use that to help knock down some debt, add to your emergency fund, invest, or grab a decent meal.
Click here to get that $20 and get your financial house in order: Personal Capital
There you have it: a list of the biggest, most cringe-worthy finance mistakes I ever made. I was only able to recover from these calamities because I ended up making a lot of money professionally at the same time that I became more financially aware. I had to overcome a lot of deep-rooted programming and frankly, grow up, to get myself out of that financial hole and on to the path of financial independence.
I’ve made almost every financial mistake in the book. I don’t regret these mistakes because they taught me well. I’ll never make these mistakes again. They also led to me being OBSESSED with personal finance, and here I am, 6+ months into a mini-retirement and money isn’t an issue.
Related: A Taste of Early Retirement
Listen, just because somebody knows a lot about something now, it doesn’t mean they were always good at it. I suspect a lot of other personal finance bloggers out there have made some of the errors above as well. Becoming financially independent involves doing the right things, but it also includes not doing the wrong things!
What are the most significant financial mistakes you’ve made so far? How did you recover from them? What did you learn?